While the world experiences increases in food prices due to shrinking food supplies, I feel completely disconnected from that fact as I stand in a farmer’s market overflowing with fruits and vegetables priced at 99 cents and less a pound.
Earlier in the day I sat in Qdoba on Route 17 in NJ eating a giant, black bean burrito overflowing with salsa, guacomole, beans, corn, and tomatoes as I read the Friday NYTimes, which devoted most of page A4 to increases in food prices worldwide.
“Sugar prices are at an all time high,” Neil MacFarquhar writes in the article, Food Prices Worldwide Hit Record Levels, Fueled by Uncertainty, U.N. says.
“Couldn’t be,” I thought to myself. Just weeks ago my sugar craving was satisfied with the purchase of Stony Hill Frozen Yogurt, which had just gone on sale at the local grocer. Oreos, a favorite sugar-packed treat of mine, were also reduced in price. (I bought a bag of those too – darn that winter sugar craving!).
My Overflowing Black Bean Burrito
Perhaps it hasn’t hit us, I figured. Then again, I read in the NYTimes article that Mr. Abdolereza Abbassian from the F.A.O. stated that the autumn soybean harvest in the United States was poor…stocks were at their lowest levels in 50 years.
Really? Well, a Bloomberg article from October 2010 states that the soybean harvest may be down 2.2 percent yet Anne Frick, a senior analyst from for Prudential Bache Commodities LLC in New York, is quoted in the article as saying that, “There is not a shortage of soybeans in the U.S. or the world.”
Her statement coincides with what I see on the shelves of the local supermarket, lots of soy products, soy milk, processed soy frozen foods, vegetable oils that come from soy and the prices appear stable.
But I’m sure that the impact of the soy harvest or any harvest for that matter doesn’t boil down to simply whether I see a shift on the shelves or in the pricing at the supermarket yet it is hard for someone like me who lives in the US to understand what the food shortage really means for the world if it isn’t in my own backyard.
I had the same feeling of disconnect when a friend who is rather well informed about food issues expressed serious worry about a potential food shortage in nyc. I wondered, should I be worried?
I asked if her concern was part of the always present doom and gloom in regard to the future of the planet, you know, all the information out there about the growing population, shrinking water supply, perilous effects of climate change, nuclear proliferation, and oh yeah, I can’t forget to mention the possibility of a meteor striking earth and wiping out civilization. The doom and gloom that we all know about but ignore to prevent complete paralysis and insomnia-filled nights. This doom and gloom seems to have existed always from beginningless time…
There wasn’t any doom and gloom to be found in the Farmer’s Market as I stood there surrounded by shelves overflowing with vegetables and fruits, milk and eggs, grains and nuts. I was planning to make a root vegetable soup and stocked up on traditional Dominican tubers commonly grown in other parts of the world – batata, yautia, and yucca – and also added broccoli rabe, squash and apples to the basket.
In the second NYTimes article on page A4, Crops Wither And Prices Rise As China Deals With Drought, Keith Bradsher describes how severe drought in China has badly damaged the winter wheat crop.
In the photo featured next to the article, a man walks across a cracked earth wheat field in Shanding Province, China. The evidence of the shortage is right below his feet — his gaze is fixed on the cracks; his arms held behind his back — he connects with the earth.
My feet touch a cement floor, my eyes scan a market filled with shoppers busy loading up there baskets with breads and pastas and baked goods just brought in on a truck idling in the parking lot outside the sliding glass doors.
If the increase in food prices or the shortage hasn’t hit here, then what are the signs to pay attention to? The weather is listed as a cause in one of the articles. And the weather and global warming is the main argument linked to the global food crisis in an op ed that appears in today’s NYT written by Paul Krugman, Droughts, Floods and Food.
But the weather has actually been fine in my neck of the woods of Jersey City. I actually feel like we had a proper winter with regular snowstorms and regular winter chill.
Yet, I can’t ignore the massive amounts of flooding that has hit Australia – you see that and the brain registers concern for the planet.
Neil MacFarquhar cites that rising food prices is one factor fueling the anger directed toward governments in the Middle East region. Okay, I see the ongoing discontent in that region daily on the news and can read about that in the papers.
Does the very visible discontent in the Middle East and disastrous flooding in Australia erase the disconnected feeling? Not really, the disconnect runs much deeper than that.
It isn’t just about the distance from the man in Shanding Province, China who will sit down to eat with his family and have less food, it isn’t about the absence of extreme temperatures in your neighborhood, it isn’t just about not seeing or actually experiencing less food on the shelves – the disconnect is about our relationship to food and ultimately to ourselves.
When you are disconnected from knowing where your food comes from and/or what is in it, you are more likely to be detached from what “Farmer Chen” is or is not eating in China.
I think bridging the disconnect begins with paying attention to what you eat and understanding that you have a choice – you can buy locally grown, organic, in-season and purchase less meat especially when over 70 percent of U.S. grain and 80 percent of corn is fed to farm animals rather than people according to VegforLife.
If we make small, positive changes in our own backyards, then we are likely to see a shift away from the doom and gloom expected for our global backyard, Earth.